Do you use a fake name online?

Do you think by using a fake name you are protecting your privacy and hiding who you really are to the world?

Your fake name does not prevent anyone from knowing the Real You, so why not come forward and use your Real Name online?

Why not own your words and thoughts by attaching them to your Real Being? Why not step forward from the darkness and into the light to place who you are and what you believe directly on the record of life?

Here are the Top Three Excuses I’ve seen for why people hide their identities online:

1. I Have a Stalker.
Oh, really, and you don’t think a dedicated stalker can find you on the web when you reveal every gory detail of your life online? If you’re truly living in fear of being found out, why be on the web at all? Why hide behind a fake name to provide you a false sense of protection?

2. I Was The Victim of a Violent Crime.
You don’t want your attacker to find you online so you use a fake name and a fake personality to throw the scent from your trail. What about the others you meet online?

Do they know you’re an invented fake? How much truth do you reveal online? Bits and pieces? Nothing? If you lie to someone online to protect your private selfish interest, do you tell them you’re inventing information as you go along or do you merely pretend it doesn’t matter that you purposefully mislead people?

3. I Don’t Want People To Know It’s Me.
This is the most common excuse and also the least convincing because its employment immediately suggests you are not being true to the world or honest with yourself. You do not want to be held accountable for the fires you set and the online brush fires you start.

Or you think by not using your Real Name you can have an online life that is disconnected from public responsibility. You prefer to tear down than build up and you need the anonymity of the online experience to dagger in your daring deeds. All of those excuses do not reconcile with reality.

The fact you can be found online through the “anonymous” breadcrumbs you leave behind is startling easy and simple to accomplish. You have an ISP. You have an IP address. You have an email address.

All three of those elements can quite simply reveal the when and the what of who you are — so why not just confess from the start who you are and why you are here and there and the everywhere? What is the danger is being who you are online as you are offline? If you use your Real Name online why have you to chosen to take that bold and necessary step?

If you still pass a fake name and fake identity online — what does it really get you in the end?

97 Comments

  1. This is a great post. Having had my email account hacked into by a stalker who took the bizarre pleasure of sending abusive emails to my family and deleting work-related messages, I can speak to the anonymity issue from experience. The lunatics will find you. If you have nothing to hide, don’t hide yourself. If they want in, they’ll get in. By becoming a false person, you feed into your own fears and things become wildly disproportionate in your own head. The same stalker has sent me anonymous mail. Of course, she has sent it under the veil of anonymity. Clearly, it’s from her but I have to do the work if I want to prove it. It’s not worth the trouble. It’s easier and healthier to focus on the good and beautiful. The fun of the Internet is the unavoidable accountability that comes with it. In a very big way, it’s the safest place in the world to be–if you’re honorable.

  2. Hi Sandy!
    Excellent comment! You make a fine and precise point that if you are honest about who you are and you decide to go after your stalker, you have the law and human Rightness on your side.
    You then also have the compound authority to go after those who bother you from behind clown masks and other anonymous facades.
    When a stalker or an attacker forces you underground in the depths, they continue to win and influence you away from the effervescent light of the day.
    You get great respect from the internet community by standing up and owning your online life as you own your offline existence.

  3. I like the idea of owning what you say by using your real name. It allows a community to be built online.
    Using your real name adds credibility to whatever points you might want to make.
    Of course, you have to be wise and not give out all of your personal information every time you get an email from the rich leader of some obscure country who needs to use your bank account to transfer funds.

  4. Chris —
    You are another one who lives here in public as you do in private email and, I’m sure as you do in your home life and work life. You are predictable and stable in the creation of a single entity/persona/being/Real Human in which one is able to enjoyably interact with online and offline.
    I like what you say about community building. Precisely our point. You know who people are and where they are coming from because they own their actions and everyone agrees to that transparency. Using your Real Name online isn’t about fame or getting known — it is about being who you are in your Real Life without any hiding or excuses. There is comfort in the predictability of faith in that genuine effect.
    I deleted the link to your other blog because it didn’t seem to inform our conversation today and so it felt Spammy.
    I agree we need to be careful sharing all personal information with people who wish to exploit you for private profit — but that only takes the guide of common sense to safely lead you home.

  5. Here’s a thought. If you have ever been at the receiving end of some internet psycho, you would know. I had them post my husband’s name, my kids’ names and a lot of personal details. The reason being, someone didn’t like what I posted to usenet. This person posed our address and phone number. We got a lot a lovely calls over that one. There is no way in hell I would use my real name on any post and yes I know you have my ISP and my location but you still don’t know who is sending the message, do you? I seriously gave up usenet because of this bs. Oh and in case you think someone can’t circumvent your detection, there are things called proxy servers and anonymous remailers. Both work quite necely.

  6. no one —
    I normally delete comments from people like you who fake all your information but I will use you as an example that you are not as safe as you claim to be with the remailers and the proxies. You may believe you are hidden but you are not and I mention that not to chide you but to warn others who may think as you do.
    I don’t know why you bother to be online or even post here. No one can verify anything you say or place any validity in your claims. Anyone can post any information online about anyone at any time. All information is available for purchase. Bad intent is everywhere whether you fake who you are or not.
    I believe the good people will protect you and the bad people will perish. I know I can send out all call for help right here and I’ll get a flood of responses to help set things right when they are gone wrong.
    If you have been wronged — fight it in court and win — but to challenge people by saying they cannot find out who you really are only invites deeper examination to disprove your claim. You won’t have to worry about that challenge from me — but you should be careful elsewhere online and you should be wary of who you challenge and what you claim from behind the false security of your online persona.

  7. David,
    I find it highly ironic when people say, “I can be myself online if I don’t have to use my real name.” Um, if you have to hide your identity to express something, then what you are expressing is not you! You are not being yourself, you are being what you wish you could be!

  8. I agree, Emily, there is a disconnect because of the misunderstanding of identity protection and being a fraud and being who you really are.
    If damage is done to you online, it is much easier for you to seek reparation and repair if you have been who you really are and not one who hides behind a false sense of the safety of a fake name.
    Creating an online persona might be entertaining, but at its core it is deceptive and it actually propagates fakery and encourages harmful anonymity online that can hurt and wound others in the process.

  9. I have the opportunity to comment today – ( ie time to pinch a computer as mine is in the shop – hopefully being fixed ).
    I belong to an alternative adult community where aliases are commonplace. I am known by my “scene” name. My reputation, my working life and my business are all built around that name – it is my trademark. Most of what I write and contribute to both on-line and in real life is in this sphere and under this name. A quick google on MsDemmie will result in a considerable number of adult orientated sites where I contribute either by moderating, forum discussion or by writing articles.
    However – especially in the blogging arena – there are times and places where my scene name is not appropriate – family friendly blogs for instance
    and places where I do not want to force my scene name ( and activities) upon a wider audience. In those places I use my real name – Nicola. In other places – such as the BBC or The Guardian or Daily Mail – it would not be suitable to use that name either.
    Kink isn’t suitable for use everywhere and neither is my Kink name.
    Nicola and MsDemmie are pretty much one and the same – so much so I have nearly put my foot in it by saying “Hi MsDemmie here” on the phone to the local post office on more than one occasion!

  10. Well, I don’t personally see how using a fake name necessarily creates an online persona. I sometimes use a nickname, but I don’t necessarily act any differently when I do. It definitely doesn’t suddenly make me turn into a jerk. Usually, I use a nick when most of the other people are using one.
    I mean, I was on a forum for my college anime club, and everyone was using nicknames even though we knew who everyone was. Partially I think its become something of a tradition over the internet to use nicks on forums and the like, even if you can find people’s ip addresses.
    And using a real name doesn’t suddenly make people nicer or more responsible with what they say over the net. I’ve met plenty of people who are perfectly happy to act like jerks in person, using their real name and everything. Also, do you thing people are ‘duplicitous’ when they use a nickname in public and not their real name? What about when somebody uses a pen name in print? Like Ms. Manners, Abby, or Silence Dogood, Harry Meanwell, Alice Addertongue, Richard Saunders, and Timothy Turnstone .
    Not to mention that it is possible for a ‘real name’ to be a fake name. Most people aren’t going to go through the amount of effort necessary to find out what your correct name is. Obviously, unless your just an awesome hacker or something, they probably can. The same is true for pseudonyms. So, I think the real lesson shouldn’t be whether people use real names or fake names or nickname or whatever, but that people feel more accountable in the end for what they say online and off. And some people just don’t, even if they use their real name – just look at some politicians.
    Oh, and I only use my first name because I don’t normally introduce myself with my last name – maybe I will if I start going into business or what not. Usually I just wait for people to ask, if they are interested.

  11. Stacy —
    My invoking of the word “duplicitous” was narrow and specific.
    I’ve always tried to use my real name when choosing a “nickname” online. I always felt it was more honest.
    My experience tells me when people write words attached to their Real Names they are generally much kinder and cooperative with the group. Sure there are always jerks no matter what name they are wearing.

  12. That picture of the clown – my husband and I were strolling around Paris this past summer and walked by the artist’s studio who makes those pictures with bodies. I’ve admired his work for so long that I couldn’t even go in to talk to him. I’m sorry I didn’t read your post. I just liked the picture.

  13. Hi Chris!
    That is an interesting wonderment! I guess if a person wants to be known as their nickname — so be it! But, become it. Live as one as the nick. It isn’t as good as using your Real Name, but at least there’s some resonance and predictability of unified ownership.

  14. In my experience, it doesn’t seem to be the use of real names that leads to that, but the amount of time put into and the stability of the community in question. If somebody is going to post somewhere once and never come back, they feel they can be rude. If they want to be part of the community, then they have an incentive to be polite. Also, a community (forum, blog, website) that is moderated for rudeness and ‘trolls’ will be more polite in the long run.
    What matters most is that people have a stake in what they are saying. Therefore, even though using real names may lead to this, it does not necessarily follow that using a nickname will detract from this. Like I said before, people do the same thing in print for various reason, and I see nothing wrong with that, so I don’t see how it’s bad over the net.

  15. Hi David,
    I think in some places, people are given a nickname and that becomes their identity. If you asked someone if they knew “John Doe,” they probably wouldn’t know you were taking about. But, if you said the guy’s nickname, they’d be able to tell you exactly where to find him.
    I knew a woman who had a name that wasn’t super common, but wasn’t too unique either. She unofficially adopted another first name that she thought was prettier and “reflected her new self.” After a while, everyone came to know her by the other name, even though it wasn’t her real name.

  16. Why even choose a scene name? Why become “Ms. Demmie” in the first place? Why can’t you and your fantasy or choice or persona be identically joined across common and diverse interests?
    Several reasons.
    When I started it was something to keep quiet and not broadcast in the same way as it is now – it did afford some illusion of anonymity – it took some work to trace back. It was and still is a community based on Role Play – most people venture into the BDSM world via role play and dressing up to one extent or another. It gave me permission to explore – it continues to give others permission to explore.
    It also fitted the dynamics of the BDSM scene – “Ms” denotes dominant female – both MsNicola and MistressNicola were already taken as nicknames – as was Demeter from which MsDemmie is derived.
    Somewhere along the line the two halves of my life became one ….. it became my job ( no fear of outing to employers and consequent loss of job – yes it still happens) – when it became my job it became my trademark.

  17. Chris —
    I know a guy in Kentucky who has been known all his life as “Pork Chop.” Now, we’ll forget for a moment that he’s Black and uneducated and from a remote rural area and fat White Guys gave him that nickname as a child and the awful racial stereotypes that nick immediately brings to mind in today’s society, and we’ll instead argue that birth names appear on birth certificates and legal documents for a reason.
    When someone goes to court or files a lawsuit — do they use Real Names or nicknames?
    Why should interaction on the internet be any different?
    The authority for posting thoughts and comment on the internet shouldn’t be any less formal or less stringent that those requirements found in a court of law, the DMV or your high school diploma.

  18. I never used anything except my real name on the web, ever. Sometimes I cut my name in half but still it is my real name.
    Interestingly, this entire forum is run by people who use fake name. I am a regular reader of this forum but never partcipated there.
    http://chronicle.com/forums/
    Is saving one’s own back is another name of being smart?

  19. Hi Katha!
    I respect you for using your name everywhere on the web.
    Well, Chronicle.com is filled with academics! They love to shoot you from behind and stab you in the back! I’m sure it’s required as part of that community NOT to reveal who you are or you’d be in big trouble. Ha! That’s why I have such disdain for those kinds of forums where everyone is nobody and nobody everybody.
    If those people were truly interested in a healing dialogue they’d use their real names or they’d be involved in their own schools finding solutions instead of constantly complaining.

  20. Right!
    Everybody is venting out there! Teachers are complaining about students, employees are complaining about their work place…what a mess!
    Yikes!
    AND I AM POSTING THIS UNDER MY REAL NAME WITH A HOPE THAT SOMEDAY I WILL BE A PART OF ACADEMIA!!!
    OOOOPS!!!

  21. Katha!
    Yes, academe is a nasty business of cohorts, collusion, back-stabbing, sexual promiscuity — and that’s all in the faculty and not the student body! 😀
    You will be asked to join sides and to take up fights that aren’t yours. You will be required to prove your worth. It’s very old-fashioned and mafia-like in many ways. You’ll be your own thug soon enough!

  22. Hi David,

    Yes, academe is a nasty business of cohorts, collusion, back-stabbing, sexual promiscuity — and that’s all in the faculty and not the student body!

    This topic would make an interesting post. You should layout the organizational structure identifying who are the bosses, the captains, and who makes up the crews.

  23. Hi David,
    Here are some questions:
    What is the most interesting thing that a student would want to know about academe, but didn’t realize they should ever ask.
    Who really has the power at universities? The academic department or athletic department?
    What is the key to student success — beyond the basics of reading and studying? How does a student really impress the professors?

  24. If I think of anything, I’ll definitely let you know!
    It’s too bad I won’t be able to check in until later on in the day tomorrow since I’ll be away from the office until the afternoon. I need to convince my wife I need a Blackberry. :mrgreen:

  25. Oh, rats! Tomorrow is Wednesday! Gah! All for you; all for nothing! 😀
    Hold out for an iPhone, Chris! We’re getting two here ASAP and we’re dropping our Bberries the minute they hit. Visual Voice Mail and purer live interaction with Gmail are great pluses and I love the virtual keyboard if it works as it should. That will be a killer phone!

  26. Exactly right, Chris and that interactive demo URL I gave you shows just how powerful and easy it will be to write and manage email and surf. It will be a real delight to use and set the next level of expectation for exploratory communication.

  27. David, I use a fake name because the intent of my blog is to have a safe place where I can say exactly what I’m thinking about religion and other things without having to worry about some mentally-ill fundamentalist coming to hunt me or my family down.
    I’m actually pretty careful not to reveal very many details about my life.
    I am myself, with my own name, elsewhere. But that’s not the intent of my persona here, where I can be as Honest a Poet as I need to be to say what needs to be said.

  28. Hmm, I was thinking about this topic myself. Interesting post and comments indeed.
    I have had blogs previously and enjoyed them, then stopped to pursue other past times, but have the inclination to write again.
    My intention when I created the blog yesterday while home sick was to recount some silly stuff concerning people I work with and my opinions on various topics that come to mind.
    I was thinking if someone at work read the post they may get offended. But then I am known as sometimes sarcastic and blunt and usually say to someone’s face what I am likely to write about, so I guess that argument won’t hold.
    Most of the team are into MySpace and most likely wouldn’t see my blog anyway and I never write to it or view it while at work.
    Nature of my work prevents me posting specifics about that so no worries on my employers slapping me for something I might say.
    Previously when I have a blog where I haven’t used my real name the wife always points out “it’s not you”.
    Interesting point brought out for and against. So cogitate one must.

  29. Hi Sam!
    I think there’s a danger when people will not own what they say or claim online using their Real Names.
    Why would someone say something anonymously that they wouldn’t say standing up and claiming authorship?

  30. My family tells me all of the time that I should not be using my real name online because someone might steal my identity. I still use it even though they disagree. I did show them once before how I could easily track them down even without a name. If someone wants to know who you are, there are plenty of ways to find out!

  31. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, Shawn! I think it’s harder to steal an identity that is well-established online. People who wish to steal other people’s identities count on a certain amount of indistinguishable ordinariness in their victims. If your name and likeness are “out there” everywhere it makes it much harder for someone else to pretend to be you without getting caught.

  32. WordPress are on Akismets case – they got back to me pretty quickly and I did some test comments – so hopefully all should be sorted now.
    I think yesterday there might have been so heavy traffic when I was trying to post – not sure if the stats bear that out – it did seem a bit slow and cumbersome compared to normal – I was however blogging later in the day than I usually do – and it might be a *peak* time for people in the USA to be catching up.

  33. Hiya Nicola!
    Thanks for getting in good with Akismet again. It is vitally important to report all false positives.
    Yesterday, for me anyway, did feel abnormally slow and sluggish when I was interacting with the blog. Today seems a bit better.

  34. Totally agreed.
    People think that masking their identity makes it possible to say all kinds of outrageous things, without any consequences or reprisal.
    Look at the people at the Huffington Post who angrily moaned about terrorists’ bombs missing Dick Cheney in Afghanistan. Would these people have publicly said this otherwise, using their real names? Perhaps…at least Bill Maher did, but he is the liberal version of Ann Coulter, so why take him seriously?
    Even so, it is a copout, because it diminishes responsibility for the positions that you take.
    I use my real name, because I am not afraid to tell people who I am and what I represent. I am proud to say these things, because I believe them. My words are completely meaningless, if I am not willing to back them up, when challenged. It’s about having integrity. It’s about being genuine. It’s about being real. It’s about sincerity.
    I find it cowardly to hide behind a mask. I find it phony. I find it disingenuous.
    And you are correct about identities not really being hidden anyway. Even with an anonymous proxy, there are ways to find out who someone is. As a CCNA, I know that this is undoubtedly the case.
    Good post David.

  35. Hi Brent!
    There is definitely a disconnect going on here where some good people believe they are doing good in the world by speaking their truth from behind the anonymity of a fake name.
    Truth doesn’t live in the undefined.
    The truth only lives in the specificity of identification and in the verification of facts — and in order to verify this truth, you must stand with your evidence in the full light of day.

  36. No, David, on the contrary. When I blogged under my real name I found myself watching what I said. That’s no fun at all.
    You know, using your real name hardly makes you more sincere or real to me. The fact that I know you middle initial doesn’t mean squat.
    Do you say what you mean? Then you’re honest. If you don’t, you’re not. It’s that simple.
    The internet is NOT real life. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have real communication, but it does mean that we need to be sensible. We have NO IDEA who’s reading.
    In real life, if I were to have a conversation about religion, for example, I would look around to see who was there to hear, and I would tailor my words (or lower my voice) accordingly.
    To pretend that the same rules apply in the two very different situations is specious.
    I’m sorry, I’d mistaken you for someone with common sense.

  37. honestpoet —
    I feel you’re a coward hiding behind a rather ridiculous “honestpoet” handle when you can’t handle honestly revealing who you really are — and so you somehow feel freer to snipe at whatever target you wish without any responsibility attached to your attacks.
    The fundamentalists have cowed you and quieted the real you.
    The internet is certainly real life just like the telephone is real life and reading newspapers is real life and sending text messages is real life.
    If you make something a part of your life the experience is real. Dividing your life into real experiences and semi-real experiences leads to an inevitable and capricious duality that cannot be sustained because there’s no reality to give it context.
    Goodbye and enjoy your irresponsible fake blogging!

  38. David,
    Thanks for all the work you do here.
    I know I’m a bit late to the party, but I just found this post.
    What if one has the courage to use their “real” name, but they just do not like it? Personally, I do not care for my last (family) name, nor do I have much emotional investment in it. I am in the process of changing careers, so there is little tying me to my last name, but everyone I ask thinks it would be “silly” or “juvenile,” or just plain “too late” to change it now (I’m 44.) What do you do then?
    David
    (My real first name.)

  39. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, David!
    Your “Real Name” is the legal name that identifies you and confirms your identity in the law, taxation, fees and licensing. It doesn’t matter what that name is just as long as that name is tied to a single body with identifiable DNA.
    I was born “Isherwood” and only became “Boles” through a second marriage of my mother:
    http://goinside.com/98/6/isherwood.html
    I’m known as “Boles.” If I ever legally changed my name back to Isherwood, I would be known by that name because Boles would no longer be tethered to me as a verifiable identity in third party verification systems.
    I say if you hate your name, change it legally. Do it the right way. Be above-board with it all. Find satisfaction in self-identifying with the inevitable.

  40. As an aside here – the recent controversy over the accuracy of Wikipedia and the problems with *open source* and the anonymity of a lot of the contributors – one of the original names behind Wikipedia has announced the formation of a new open source Encyclopaedia called Citizendium.
    Citizendium will be non profit, devoid of ads and free to read and edit. Unlike Wikipedia, Citizendium’s volunteer contributors will be expected to provide their real names. Experts in given fields will be asked to check articles for accuracy.
    More on this here – http://tinyurl.com/2ccdn6

  41. Yes, I’m stalking you 😉
    Well, as you can see, I’m hiding behind a fake-ish name. I admit it. Not because I don’t want to take responsibility for what I write, ‘cos I really do. I invite deeper connections through my blogging and commenting. But because I am scared of the loonies. So this post has given me more food for thought. How safe am I really?
    And then there is the fact that I’ve started publishing my photo’s and other artistic endeavors online, and damn! I want those under my real name. I want credit for that work. So now I have a fake blog name with real name photo’s so any safety net has now been blown anyway. So who knows, shortly I may go real.
    There is another aspect that I am battling to reconcile, and that is that there are things I am interested in and want to write about and explore (for eg: BDSM & Paganism) that I am not comfortable my family or my employer knowing about. Nicole wrote about this much more eloquently that I could. Shoving my BDSM exploits in my father’s face, hardly seems appropriate. And I’m not sure how to get around that.
    There is also the aspect that I have previously personally experienced, that of exploring aspects of yourself. A few years back, I had a massive sudden spiritual awakening and through a poem I wrote, I became known as Flamespirit. Through this identity, I discovered a whole about myself. I have since integrated that into the whole of me and no longer identify with Flamespirit as a whole. She is now simply part of Natalie or Natz.
    (Btw, I see people apologize for getting in on your posts late. I’m not sure what the etiquette is, but I don’t feel that need. I think your posts are pretty timeless, so I hope you’re ok with late comments.)

  42. natzgal —
    There’s really no hiding. The first message you posted here was from a state.gov site address (I won’t name the state here) and through that clue and through your blog I was able to see the townhouse you are trying to sell along with all the intimate details of your new life.
    Is that creepy? Heck ya! Are you invisible? No. Can you hide online? No. What’s the purpose of hiding your real self and your real wants like, say, BDSM if that is a part of building who you are? Why care what others think in their small minds?
    A couple of our regulars here didn’t like having to use real names, but now that they do, they appreciate the freedom it brings them.
    As for the “getting in late” apologies… it’s two headed for those who know better… :mrgreen:
    First is my INTJ personality where I live in the future and not the past (or past articles):
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/06/24/mark-of-the-intj-rational-mastermind/
    And then this blunt plea to keep the blog moving forward and not backward:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2006/10/08/but-that-was-yesterday/
    That said, your “late” comments on articles are enjoyable and delightful. So it’s fun to ponder back here with you. 😀

  43. Wow David! That is so creepy I hardly know what to say. It’s scary even. I don’t think I’m really so surprised though, I know the information is available. It’s just very shocking when it’s presented to you on a platter, in your face. Would you mind letting me know (via email, which you have now :-)) how you found my townhouse? You’ve given me much to think about here (And thanks for protecting the state information). Thank you.

  44. It is creepy and it took me less than 3 minutes after you set down the challenge to me this morning! 😆
    I don’t want to reveal any of my methods because we’re being watched by those who want to know how they are thwarted here. I’m not revealing any of my investigative techniques! 😀
    Just remember what you reveal here is a sliver of what you reveal to other websites you visit. If you also add your address or phone number into the equation — you’re giving people the keys to your identity because you’ve made a game of it by pretending to be something you are not by hiding.
    You think you’re protecting your privacy and your wants but there’s no such thing like that online or offline any longer.
    To protect the real you when it comes to getting credit in your name, be sure to read my Debix article:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2008/01/02/fighting-identity-theft-with-debix/